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By RUSSELL TURNER
Penalties and turnovers doomed the Greene County Wildcats in Citronelle, Ala. on Friday.
The Wildcat offense spent a good bit of time on the Citronelle end of the field, but untimely penalties and turnovers spoiled every opportunity GCHS had for getting in the endzone. Likewise, the Greene County defense, despite being depleted by injuries to key players, held the home team in check for all, but one series, but 30 yards of penalties extended the Citronelle drive and led to the only scoring play of the game.
“Penalties and turnovers continue to be a problem,” Head Coach Mike King said. “We didn’t have a ton of penalties, (eight for 84 yards), but it seemed every one was costly.”
“It is frustrating. Defensively, we’ve played pretty well, but we have really struggled offensively and the penalties and other miscues have been a big part of the problem.”
One of the costliest penalties against the Wildcats came with just over 10 minutes to play as a nice TD run by K.J. Miller was called back by a penalty away from the action. One of the biggest turnovers for GCHS came in the first half after a blocked punt gave the Wildcats possession deep in Citronelle territory. That momentum was killed on the very next play with an interception by a Citronelle linebacker.
Injuries have also plagued the Wildcats during the first weeks of the season. The Wildcats started Friday’s game with their starting senior quarterback in a wheelchair on the sideline surrounded by several key defensive players sporting casts over broken bones. With Jacob Mitchell out indefinitely, King turned to sophomore Conner West to take over at quarterback. Despite the overall lack of offensive production, King said he wasn’t disappointed in West’s performance.
“Conner did about as well as expected,” King said. “He was put in a difficult situation and didn’t shy away from it.”
“He did some things well and we believe he can continue to improve. Hopefully, having a normal practice week without a holiday mixed in, will help this week as we prepare for a good Quitman team.”
West finished with 73 yards passing. He completed 10-of-25 passes, with two interceptions.
Overall, GCHS managed 121 of total offense. Senior Anthony Calhoun led all GCHS running backs with 47 yards on 11 carries. He also had nine yards on one pass reception. Freshman K.J. Miller had 28 yards rushing. Senior Drake Henderson was the leading receiver, pulling in seven catches for 52 yards.
Defensively, the shorthanded Wildcats had a pretty solid night. Senior Jared Woullard led the Cats with seven tackles, followed closely by senior Kade Kittrell and sophomore Jeremiah Cochran, who each had six tackles. Cochran also had a blocked punt for the Wildcats, while Kittrell hauled in an interception.
Sophomore J.T. Dunnam had five tackles, while seniors Malachi Graham, Gary Hawthorne Jr. and Josh Bolton each had four. Bolton also had a fumble recovery before leaving the game with a high ankle sprain.
It is unclear whether Bolton will miss this week’s matchup at Quitman, but he and a host of others are questionable, while a few others are known to be out for at least another week.
“We haven’t had but one injury that is a season-ending type, but I can’t recall ever being a part of a team with this many injuries to starters,” King said. “We are a long way from 100 percent and will not be at 100 percent for a while.”
“We just have to find a way to keep our spirits up and keep playing and trying to get better.”
Trip to Quitman up next for Wildcats
Greene County has grown quite familiar with the Quitman Panthers over the past couple of years and will get another look at the 4A foes this Friday when they travel up Hwy. 45 for a non-region matchup.
So far, Quitman is off to a 1-2 start to the season, but like the Wildcats, this will be their first matchup in the 4A classification. They started the season with a 28-14 loss to 5A Wayne County, but led the War Eagles by two touchdowns before halftime. They defeated Heidleberg 23-6 in week two, but dropped a 41-14 to an undefeated West Jones team last week.
The Wildcats are 3-0 against the Panthers since 2017, including a 36-10 playoff win in King’s first season. However, GCHS squeaked out just a 7-0 win at home last year, and are expecting a very tough matchup this year on the road.
“This will be the same talented Quitman team we have seen for the past few years,” King said. “They have a lot of talent at the skilled positions with a lot of good athletes all over the field.”